Lockdown during the Holidays
This holiday season, instead of navigating the difficulties of family, we are navigating the difficulties of isolation and boredom. We are walking through how to manage when to Zoom or when to not Zoom. Some of us might be even handling family after living with them for months on end but for many of us, we have been stuck in our house seeing and talking to few. For those of us in California, most of us are under a Stay At Home order that will last through the Christmas season. So how do we keep the holiday spirit alive when visits with loved ones either won’t happen or are filled with angst and guilt? When shopping either is all online or very sporadic or just economically not an option this year? When instead of feeling festive we just feel exhausted and bored and slightly depressed?
Like the rest of 2020, we take it one problem, one feeling, and one day at a time.
This is advice or encouragement you have been hearing all year long from various professionals of different stripes but it does bear repeating. And that is, find your balance. Staying physically and medically safe isn’t just about you. It’s about those who can’t and the healthcare professionals who are exhausted and burnt out. Keeping that reminder in mind can help combat that impulse to throw all caution to the wind and book a trip or visit someone’s house anyway.
But the flip side is to pay attention to your mental health. If you’ve reached the limit of what a Zoom or phone call can do for you in terms of connecting, look for safer ways to connect BEFORE you get to the “fuck it” stage. If you reach out to do a socially distant and safe hike or walk before that point, your more likely to keep your mask on and not hug at the end. If you reach out to family to have an outdoor picnic with extra blankets before you start to say, “like it matters”, you are more likely to stay outside instead of heading indoors at the first sign of clouds.
So listen to yourself, pay attention, and focus on when your mental health wants you to reach out and do so before you throw safety and caution to the winds. It is normal to need contact and it is normal to be tired of all of this. So go ahead, just be safe and careful while you do.
This one is hard. So hard. Not because you might not have the willpower to avoid going shopping indoors. I know you have that willpower. It’s hard because do you even know what to get them? Do you feel comfortable spending money right now? Do you really want to buy online when that’s what you have been doing all year?
Everyone this year is taking pause and embracing the unconventional. Don’t be afraid to have that frank conversation with your family and friends. Exposing the pink elephant in the room will help everyone relax. Whether it’s about money or confusion or just wanting something different, start with how you are feeling about the holidays in general. Then ask where they are at. You might be suprised about what is causing their anxiety or low mood. And if money is a concern, don’t be afraid to put limits out there so that everyone’s expectations are managed. Many people are giving donations to charity this year, skipping anything other than homemade gifts, or just changing the purpose of the day of celebration in general. But it all starts with admitting that this year is going to be different.
Combatting the COVID Blues
There is no official agreed upon term but everyone knows what you are talking about. That general slightly anxious, slightly bored, slightly pessimistic feeling. You know where you wake up and feel like it is never going to end and what is the point of even trying and that nobody would understand because what do you have to complain about anyway? I call it the COVID Blues. You’re sick of being in your house but you have no motivation to leave. You’re sick of trying to be grateful for you job and your roof and everything else because your boss stopped being supportive months ago and you haven’t cleaned in days. Whatever the details of your specific situation, you’re just feeling low, not depressed exactly, just low. This is normal. Human beings were designed to be social. We were designed to appreciate and value new experiences and new sensations. Even introverts and homebodies need a certain level of human connection and newness. So it is really normal and expected that this sucks and it is bringing you low. So step one, let the guilt and shame go. It is okay to feel this way no matter what privilege and benefits you have.
Next, knowing what you are missing is important. Knowing that connection, novelty, and whatever you need to be happy is not present means that you have to reach in to give it to yourself.
- Connection: Go ahead and meet a friend (socially distant of course) for a coffee and a walk. Go ahead and ask your neighbor for a socially distant 5 o’clock happy hour. And if the energy feels overwhelmingly awful, just go to the farmer’s market and do your grocery shopping in the open air market. You’ll have to talk with the vendors and that will feel better than you can imagine.
- Novelty: Change your walking routine for a different route, different neighborhood, different trail. Just change something. Maybe your sick of cooking, so switch it up and order from a new restaurant or get something different from your favorite place. Remember, your brain is craving new stimuli and this can be attained with almost any degree of change. In our old life, your commute home was different every day and you still drove the same route mostly. Since those stimulus’s have been taken away from us, change what you can. Take a bike ride instead of a walk, play basketball instead of a run, watch The Crown instead of the latest Bachelorette or the other way around.
- Happiness: Most humans find happiness in the small things like fresh air, appreciation for a job well down, beauty, or movement. Identify what that is for you in the “normal times” and introduce a version of that for yourself now. Simple steps like cleaning your room, taking a shower, buying a poinsettia to add color to your home are all simple ways to get you moving and to create a small burst of happiness.
None of this will make the Holidays less weird and isolating. But each of these small steps creates a place for a renewed sense of being in this together and for hope. And as 2020 has taught us, each small step every day gets us closer to a world where we can begin to feel safe and free from disease again.